By Tim Cullina, Senior Consulting Engineer, Fauske & Associates, LLC
I recently visited a facility that had a nicely written hot work program. They had a few completed permits, and even had training and auditing records. They had nice paper. A couple of hours later out in the plant, I observed a worker preparing to weld a crack. Lots of combustible dust (starch) was on the equipment, the floor and even near the crack. I expected to see the clean-up starting any minute. Instead, he prepared to weld...
How good was their Hot Work program? Not Very! How good is yours?
The danger of working with fire near flammable or combustible materials seems obvious. Fire doesn't play nice with materials that can easily ignite. Why then, do we continue to hear about fires or explosions ignited by hot work?
By the way, does your hot work program address combustible dust?
Year after year, hot work is a leading cause of industrial fires and has been responsible for many injuries, fatalities, and significant loss of property. We readily think of hot work as welding or oxy-acetylene torch cutting, but it's a whole lot more. Hot work is any work with the potential to produce enough heat to ignite a fire or explosion. Did you know that hot work includes high speed metal grinding and cutting? Hot work also includes any task with an open flame such as open-flame soldering, open-flame torch heating, burning, and brazing.
Between 1990 and 2010, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) identified over 60 fatalities resulting from “hot work.” These specifically related to welding, cutting, and other activities using high heat around confined spaces.
By the way again, does your confined space program address combustible dust?
Even when workers know that there are flammable materials in the area, they can be unaware where these materials may accumulate to reach dangerous levels – levels that might lead to a flash fire or an explosion.
If you have combustible dust, does your hazard communication program identify the physical hazard of your combustible dust?
Hot work accidents are preventable. This incident became a near miss as we stopped the welding operation before things got "hot".
There is a lot unsaid here. I hope that the same cannot be said about your training and execution of tasks involving hot work, confined spaces, and flammable materials, including combustible dusts.
For more information regarding combustible dust, flammable hazards, process safety management (PSM), risk management safety (RMS), OSHA and NEP compliance or related testing, programs and services, please contact us (or, someone you trust). Jeff Griffin at 630-887-5213, firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at 630-887-5237, email@example.com. www.fauske.com.